This year’s angel sponsor of the UCR 5k Walk & Roll-a-thon is truly an ANGEL. Evan Finn Gardner spent his very short time on earth spreading love and joy with his expressive eyes and love of music.
Evan was a complicated little guy and stumped all of his doctors near and far. He never was given any specific diagnosis other than, “one of a kind”! Evan, grandson to UCR Board Chairman Dan Finn, loved being around people, ate too much applesauce, played with his older brothers and could not get enough hugs and kisses.
Music filled Evan’s life. I remember stories of his gramma Georgana rocking him endlessly while listening to Garth Brooks. Because his eyesight was limited, he used his keen senses of smell and hearing to discover his world. He loved the smell of the salty beach air and fit right into the beach scene with his long blonde locks.
We have no doubt Evan experienced the very depths of love and joy everyday he was on earth as a member of the generous and caring Finn-Gardner family. His purposeful yet short time here changed the lives of countless others too.
Thank you to the entire Finn family for sharing Dan and Georgana with UCR! Your faith and generosity in our unique programming helps us to enrich the lives of our angels here on earth!
Singing, dancing and clapping drowns out the sounds of the church bells weekly at St. Patrick's Church in Rockville. Joy fills the room as our adults excitedly learn and try out new instruments from different parts of the world, listen to the sounds they make and realize how music makes their bodies feel.
The fall session of Rhythm, Blues and Beyond started with a bang this fall, with attendance bursting at the seams. I've watched the members share a range of emotions as they listen to and make music from all genres including soul, funk, rock and much more. We've heard members, who struggle to speak, put lyrics together to the roaring applause of their classmates. They've become family and bond freely.
During a recent class, Levine School Music Therapist Emily Bruestle, MM, MT-BC, and our volunteer Marianne Greene, noticed the music was pulling one member in particular into the moment. L was happy and smiling as he clapped, hummed and moved to the music.
As class came to a close, Ms. Bruestle chose a calmer song to end the day. Everyone communicated their farewells as they locked eyes and waved to their their friends across the room. But one particular member just didn't want the class to end. Tears streamed down his face as he realized the end of class was near.
This member's mother told me her son struggles with the finality of good-bye's, since the family moved here and had to make that huge adjustment. Regardless, something in the music stirred his soul and we are so proud to be making such a difference in the lives of those we serve.
We could not impact so many lives without the support of so many wonderful families, corporations and county support.
As I complete my second year directing Upcounty Community Resources, Inc., I have to admit, I never knew my life could be so full! I tell folks who ask me about my job, that I’m blessed to be able to do God’s work; some laugh, some agree and some roll their eyes.
What other job could one have where they get to witness miracles everyday?
Whether it’s tolerating loud music, playing a new percussion instrument, walking one more lap around the lake, getting sticky glue on fingers or just being in a big group of people, these are all huge accomplishments that I don't take lightly.
As a parent of a child with great challenges, I know how hard some days can be, but I also know, the greater the struggle, the sweeter the victory. Being able to watch members conquer their fears, grow towards independence, and socialize among friends, is a gift.
When I watch our participants let loose at our social events, dances or ZamDance-a-thons, my heart could nearly burst; there’s no judgment, no hate and no stress, another gift.
For me, knowing and meeting all the UCR families, means respecting and loving each and every one of our members. While I don’t know everyone yet by name, those that I have been privileged to interact with, have made me a better person. (I'll get those names down soon, forgive me!)
I understand NOT every day is a cake-walk, we all struggle with behaviors, rigidities and strong opinions, but if we stay "miracle-minded" and seek out the positives in every situation life has to offer, we can find reasons to celebrate daily!
Please know UCR is working hard for everyone in our community by advocating at the state and local levels, planning awesome events through 2017, building a one-of-a-kind respite/enrichment program, recruiting new therapeutic teachers and securing funding to make all these things happen!
Knowing your families is a privilege, and for that I thank you. Here's to a great 2017!
In Sincere Thanksgiving,
.... From the rookie Director perspective!
I have to admit, when we were first planning a Bingo night I honestly had no idea how popular this would be. I knew people generally enjoyed Bingo, I knew we could offer some fun prizes, I also knew EVERYONE is capable of taking part and I was thinking it would be an early night after some calm game playing. Well, I'm not afraid to admit my shortcomings, I was wrong, wrong and wrong!!!!
You all rocked it! More than 120 people enjoyed the night of fun-filled Bingo and I admit I am shocked! I cannot even sit for 3 hours, let alone focus on one task for that long, so kudos to all who lasted the entire night in hopes of scoring the final Bingo bundle. I am amazed at your perseverance and patience. My body was ready for bed by 9pm, but you all kept playing past 10.
I stepped outside a couple times for air and could hear the cheering and clapping spilling out the doors and into the parking lot! I loved how every one cheered for each other and had good, spirited fun. It's hard to lose, especially a tie breaker, but I think everyone was genuinely happy for the winners. I so wish we could give prizes to everyone for excellent sportsmanship!
Sharon and Sylvia knocked it out of the park in the Bingo Basket category! Gorgeous baskets overflowing with coolness were as useful as they were gorgeous. Thanks to Donna, as well, for selecting and presenting the gift cards prizes with class and beauty and Scott Bleggi for donating the "big prize".
Special thanks to the UCR board members and volunteers, as well. The night would not have run so smoothly with Donna Z from St. Francis, our 9 UCR board members, and volunteers from St. Rose. To learn more about our fantastic UCR Board, click here.
Incidentally, I've never heard Happy Birthday sung louder than it was Saturday night. What a super special night for the birthday girl celebrating with UCR friends and family around her! Thanks for the cookies.
I'd love to hear any thoughts you had about the night and how to improve things. (yes I know faster sign in and more bingo cards are my fixes). I'm such a rookie! :-)
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments.
We will do this again, I promise! What a blast!
Thanksgiving blessings to all!
I'm still not sure how I landed this great job, but I am sure glad I did! My life is so much richer as I complete my first year as Executive Director of this great organization.
The volunteers, members, board members, and contractors we work with are considered my extended family. I give thanks for you every day!
There is no greater feeling than being surrounded by our members with super blessings and gifts. Whether its through making connections with our non-verbal friends in art/music class, standing in the soccer goal with our workout club, shaking a leg on the dance floor, or taking over half of a theatre, my heart is over-full with joy!
I am humbled and energized to be tasked with enriching your lives through activities, programs and social outings.
This job is a gift and I thank YOU!
Looking forward to another great year ahead!
Peace and love,
Upcounty Community Resources, in partnership with St. Rose of Lima Parish and the Asbury Methodist Village of Gaithersburg celebrated the Heroes Among Us Interfaith Celebration of All Abilities, to recognize the 25th anniversary of the American's with Disabilities Act.
The uplifting and emotional ceremony included inspirational speeches about the heroes in our lives and how much promise each and every one of us hold. A talented member of the St. Rose Deaf community, Wendy Cheng, founder of the Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss, entertained the crowd of 75 people with beautiful prelude music as friends were being seated. Dancers from the Natraj School of Indian Dance performed a song to open the ceremony. Daya Ravi explained how the phrase from the song, "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam" means the entire world is but one single family and taught the crowd some sign language which was included in the Indian dances.
Meghan Parker, the mother of a child with Epilepsy read an excerpt from the original ADA document signed 25 years ago by President George H.W. Bush. Reflections were offered by Nicolette Stearns and Adrian Forsythe both from ArtStream. Jack Berman, Temple Beth Ami, is high school student and caring brother to Emilie who has Autism. He started the tears flowing with a moving speech about how his sister is his hero and makes him appreciate life in a deeper more meaningful way.
Venkat Rajagopal, an adult succeeding with Autism, sang Blessed Be Your Name while being accompanied by the UCR Adult Chime Choir and Donny Toker, an adult succeeding with Autism, on piano. Jake Edwards followed that presentation with a speech about how he loves his Autism and God created all of us to be exactly how we are for special purposes on Earth.
Deacon Dan Finn, Chairman of UCR, directed a Belonging Ceremony where members of the Jewish, Hindu, Unitarian and Christian Communities all combined water into a large vase to signify wholeness and belonging. "The core of our existence is water. We all come from water, our bodies are mostly water, and water gives us life. Water is the very essence of equality, no one drop is more important than another."
A short music meditation included Peace is Flowing Like a River followed by the keynote address written by Debbie Sahlin, Founder of Lollipop Kids Foundation and mother of a child with special needs.
My Journey to Finding MY HERO!
To illustrate how I found the true meaning of a hero, I am compelled to give you a small piece of my personal journey.
When I was a young child, I thought my family life was somewhat happy. My parents made sure I had everything I needed. However, my childhood home lacked nurturing and love.
I spent most of my time growing up with two little girls that lived next door to me. They went to church every week and Vacation Bible School every summer. They always talked about how much fun they had there. I noticed a difference in their family – they were happy. I wanted that for my family.
One summer, when I was five, my friends invited me to go to Vacation Bible School with them. I really wanted to go. I asked my father if I could join them and he let me go.
Before I left, I decided to ask my dad about the existence of God.
“Is there really a God?” I asked optimistically. To me, it seemed to be a very simple question for a five year old.
“There is no God.” He replied not even bothering to look up from the book he was reading.
My mind drifted to my friends and their family for a moment. I sensed something different in them and the interactions I witnessed in their home. What was the difference? They went to church and talked about God often. Could God possibly exist and He is the difference? I was desperate to find out.
“When you go to church tonight, ask the preacher, ‘If there really is a God, then why are there handicapped people?’ ” My father added almost tauntingly.
I knew I needed to find out for myself.
That night at VBS, after all the activities, there was a drawing for a big, yellow lollipop.
I prayed my first prayer: “God, if you are real, let me win that lollipop so I know the truth”.
I clutched my ticket so tightly as the numbers were read.
As I walked up to collect my prize, I felt a burning sensation all over my body. I could feel my heart beating faster and faster. My black patent leather shoes clicked as I slowly put one foot in front of the other. The burning sensation I was feeling gradually turned into an unbelievable calm. I felt so peaceful and a lightness rushed over me. I was absolutely certain there was a God and that He was walking right beside me. Although I couldn’t see him, I was nearly suffocated by His presence.
For the first time in my life, I felt hopeful.
I decided to save my lollipop forever. But, with many well intended plans, the significance of the lollipop faded as my family life worsened.
I lived my life for the next few decades in a manner not pleasing to God.
Fast forward 20 or so years, I received the most devastating phone call about my 11 month old baby boy.
His father wasn’t paying close enough attention to him and he accidently struck him in the head while swinging a golf club. My son, Ryan, was medivaced to Children’s National Medical Center with no hope of surviving.
My childhood friends met me at the hospital (the same ones with me at VBS) and one hugged and comforted me as any good friend would. But, my other friend wasn’t so comforting.
She grabbed my shirt collar and looked me right in the eyes and said “I was there when you gave your life to God, he’s saying WHERE ARE YOU?
I wanted to be mad at her, but in the depth of my being, I knew she was right.
That night I prayed for the first time since VBS. My prayer was simple.
“God, please let me my baby be ok”. I repeated this over and over.
I felt a stirring in my soul which left a question hovering over me, “What is your definition of ok?”
My definition of OK was my son being exactly the way he was before he got hurt --- that he remained “normal”.
I immediately sensed as answer to my prayer. God answered me with NO.
I didn’t understand the NO at the time but now, from what I’ve learned, I wouldn’t changed His answer for for anything in the world. My journey with my son has allowed me to formulate an answer to the question my father posed so many years ago.
To my father I answer “ God is SO GOOD because he allows people living with disabilities to enter our world.” Through these people He has given us the greatest gift – teachers.
People living with disabilites, like my son, exhibit a pure spirit. They bear fruit – love, patience, kindness, gentleness, JOY, generosity, modesty and self- control.
Let me leave you with a question: Isn’t this what we are called to do?
The heroes among us are people living with disabilities. I thank each of them for teaching me things I didn’t even know I needed to know.
Founder & Executive Director
Lollipop Kids Foundation
After all the tears were dried, Deacon Dan read Reverend Wilke's Blessing from the ADA ceremony on July 26th 1990. The UCR Adult Chime Choir closed the day by signing What a Wonderful World and chiming Lean On Me with Donny Toker on the piano and vocals.
Enjoy pictures below from the ceremony, our adults are such a blessing!
Since taking this job three months ago, I have met the most incredible women. Mothers, sisters, aunties, best friends, mentors, all carrying the very important role of raising children with challenges. It's not an easy task, speaking from first-hand experience, but we were all chosen for this very special job. We laugh, cry, scream, and embrace every moment of life with vigor.
We are lucky. While our job as a special needs parent is different than other moms' jobs because we have different challenges, but so many more celebrations. We see ordinary, everyday things as major accomplishments! We celebrate vocalizations, eye contact, hugs and hi-fives. Our milestones may take longer coming but they sure taste all the sweeter.
I found this poem by Erma Bombeck and thought I'd share.
Happy Mother's Day to all!
Did you ever wonder how mothers of disabled children were chosen?
Somehow I visualize God hovering over the earth selecting his instruments of propagation with great care and deliberation. As He observes, He instructs His angels to make notes in a giant ledger.
"This one gets a daughter. The Patron saint will be Cecelia."
... "This one gets twins. The Patron saint will be Matthew."
"This one gets a son. The Patron saint.....give her Gerard. He's used to profanity."
Finally He passes a name to an angel and smiles. "Give her a disabled child".
The angel is curious. "Why this one God? She's so happy"
"Exactly," smiles God. "Could I give a disabled child to a mother who does not know laughter? That would be cruel!"
"But has she patience?" asks the angel.
"I don't want her to have too much patience or she will drown in a sea of sorrow and despair. Once the shock and resentment wears off, she'll handle it. I watched her today, she has that feeling of self and independence that is so necessary in a mother. You see, the child I'm going to give her has his own world. She has to make him live in her world and that's not going to be easy."
"But Lord, I don't think she even believes in you."
God smiles, "No matter, I can fix that. This one is perfect - she has just enough selfishness."
The angel gasps - "Selfishness? is that a virtue?"
God nods. "If she can't separate herself from the child occasionally she won't survive. Yes here is a woman whom I will bless with a child less than perfect. She doesn't realize it yet, but she is to be envied. She will never take for granted a 'spoken word'. She will never consider any 'step' ordinary. When her child says "Momma" for the first time she will be present at a miracle and will know it. I will permit her to see clearly the things I see...ignorance, cruelty and prejudice...and allow her to rise above them. She will never be alone. I will be at her side every minute of every day of her life because she is doing my work as surely as if she is here by my side"
"And what about her Patron saint?" asks the angel, his pen poised in mid air.
God smiles "A mirror will suffice".